First responders back broader PTSD coverage; Mayor O'Leary warns of bill's potential cost

First responders back broader PTSD coverage; Mayor O'Leary warns of bill's potential cost

Wasterbury Republican-American, February 26, 2016

BY PAUL HUGHES

HARTFORD — Police officers, firefighters and ambulance workers were back at the state Capitol on Thursday urging state lawmakers again to expand workers' compensation coverage.

The Labor and Public Employees Committee heard testimony on legislation to extend coverage for first responders diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing intentional killings and maimings. Senate Bill 134 mandates that the state pay for a workers' compensation insurance policy to provide coverage for any claims.

The Connecticut Council of Small Towns, the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and the Insurance Association of Connecticut opposed the legislation because of the potential costs. Organized labor supported it.

Testifying on behalf of CCM, Waterbury Mayor Neil M. O'Leary said towns and cities cannot afford to pay PTSD benefits without help from the state. "CCM has no problem with Senate Bill 134 as long as towns and cities incur no additional costs as a result of it," he said.

O'Leary clashed with Sen. Catherine A. Osten, D-Sprague, when Osten referred to the suicide last year of acting Waterbury Deputy Police Chief Christopher Corbett in making a case for the benefit. "I know you had a tragedy in your city last year with a police officer who committed suicide," Osten said. "I look on that as a failure of ours, not a failure of the person, but a failure of ours to not recognize that we have to give people the opportunity to ask for help, and that is something that really bothers me."

O'Leary took exception to the reference because Corbett's family reported that he was taking medication for an eye disorder that can cause depression, anxiety, nightmares and suicidal thoughts. "Excuse me, senator, you have struck a raw nerve with me on the suicide in Waterbury last year," said O'Leary, a retired Waterbury police chief. "I think it is very presumptive on your part, with all due respect, to suggest that it is job-related."

Second bill would expand coverage for cancer back to top

The labor committee also heard testimony on a second bill to expand coverage for career and volunteer firefighters who develop cancer from fighting fires.

Rep. Michelle L. Cook, D-Torrington, described House Bill 5262 as a placeholder while a working group of legislators, firefighters, municipal officials and others try to craft a mutually acceptable compromise.

"This is a work in progress, and we have not come to a final agreement as of yet," she testified. COST and CCM oppose that legislation. The two municipal associations committed to continue to work on a possible compromise.

Cook and Ridgefield First Selectman Rudi Marconi told the labor committee that they believe the working group will reach an agreement. "Now, can I say every single municipality is going to agree with what we are putting forth? I doubt it," said Marconi, one of CCM's negotiators. "I don't think we're going to have a unanimous vote no matter what we do with this issue."

Rep. Craig A. Miner, R-Litchfield, also observed that any agreement that the working group reaches may not be acceptable to legislators.